Christchurch earthquake: Quiet hero becomes a Facebook sensation

By Celeste Gorrell Anstiss

Earthquake survivor and hero Ahsei 'Ace' Sapoaga, with his son 3-year-old Constantine. Photo / Brett Phibbs
Earthquake survivor and hero Ahsei 'Ace' Sapoaga, with his son 3-year-old Constantine. Photo / Brett Phibbs

He became an overnight celebrity when TV crews captured him tossing aside concrete slabs like Lego to rescue two strangers.

After being broadcast across international news bulletins and attracting nearly 3000 Facebook fans, Ahsei "Ace" Sopoaga preferred to play down his heroic effort.

"I just tried to help," Sopoaga, 34, said.

"Adrenaline just kicked in. People were screaming. The guy was underneath there, something had to be done. I couldn't just stand there.

"I appreciate what people are saying, but there are so many real heroes. I was just trying to help out, like everyone else."

Bar manager Sam Siave worked alongside Sopoaga as they tried to free siblings Amy and Jamie Gilbert, who were trapped under debris near the Iconic Bar on Manchester St.

"He was truly awesome, saw what was happening and without prompting he jumped in and got involved," Siave said.

"I was there, I was talking to Amy and Jamie and shifting rubble out of the way but this guy certainly made a massive difference when he pitched in. I'm sure everyone will agree that he deserves a medal."

Gilbert, 22 and a father of two, died at the scene.

"I'd like to thank him [Sopoaga] personally and I'm sure Amy would too," Siave said.

Brother Issac Sopoaga said: "He's one of those guys who's always helping people. We rang him up and told him we saw him on TV, he was shocked. He didn't know about it, he's too busy helping people."

Sopoaga's five children and wife, Susie, escaped the earthquake without injury and the family's Banks Peninsula home has minor damage.

Susie said her husband was "a bit embarrassed" about the attention.

Posts on the unofficial fan page, titled "The Awesome Maori Guy - IncrediBRO Hulk", said Sopoaga embodied the human spirit.

"The image of this man will be permanently etched in my memory. His total lack of regard for his own safety and his selfless attitude in helping another human being in need is a lesson we can all learn from," one member said.

- Herald on Sunday

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